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10 questions with Deaf & Hearing Trailblazers
May 4, 2022

The Skills Builder Partnership is only made possible by the diverse contributions of all its partners. In this '10 questions' spotlight, we sat down with Stuart, the Founder of Deaf & Hearing Trailblazers, to learn more about their work on inclusion and skills with Deaf and hearing people. Read on to find out more!

1. Tell us a bit about what Deaf & Hearing Trailblazers does?

We’re a training organisation that offers accessible training courses for deaf and hearing people.

Deaf people are finding it increasingly difficult to access training courses because of additional costs - for example, online and offline course providers don’t have budgets to cover the high expense of interpreters. Online course providers aren’t set up to cater for deaf users; many now provide auto captions but this isn’t the most accurate or accessible solution for many deaf people. Course content and language has to be modified as well to make it accessible.

We’re also working with hearing people who are either interested in working with deaf people or are facing challenges where a deeper understanding and interest is needed to support them.

We’re commissioned by organisations to create and deliver bespoke professional training to suit the needs of their staff or clients.

In addition to offering training, we also provide personal and professional development consultations in the form of one-to-one or group coaching and mentoring sessions.

Our courses are delivered by deaf and hearing people who are trained to work with mixed audiences of deaf and hearing people.

We’re excited to be part of the Skills Builder Partnership!

2. What are some highlights from your work?

We’re a new organisation (est. 2018) and our first year of trading was 2019 - and then our work almost shut down in early 2020 with the pandemic. But the highlight for us has been how customers and partners soon enabled us to rally, and we all sought solutions by moving online. When we started out, we had medium/long term plans to digitalise our operations – because of the pandemic, this process was accelerated.

We know that we are meeting an important need. We’re getting repeat work for new courses and ideas from organisations that are commissioning us to be their training provider of choice. We are especially excited by the memorandum of understanding that we have with Action Deafness, as well as our involvement in the Skills Builder Partnership.

We’ve been involved in the UK Government’s Kickstart programme for young people aged 16-24, helping them to highlight and articulate their skills and experience when starting out in their careers. Action Deafness has been the gateway connection to Kickstart for a number of Deaf-led organisations: we’ve been the core training provider supporting those young people, as well as providing four roles in our own organisation.

3. How are you embedding the Skills Builder approach into your programmes?

We began by making Skills Builder part of our Kickstart training offer, enabling young people to become job ready by identifying their essential skills through monthly work reviews. They then used the Kickstart Academy to focus on articulating skills on CVs and for job interviews. All our young people who’ve found employment or attended job interviews since Kickstart have commented that this training is hugely impactful: it has directly and positively contributed to their success at job hunting and broadened their career horizons.

When we are designing courses, we now consider how Skills Builder might be incorporated into the curriculum and provide long term ongoing support to our students. We’ve been experimenting with different ideas and I’ve been excited by how flexible the Universal Framework can be.

One of our repeat customers is Deaf Action in Edinburgh where we’ve been working with their youth workers and young people. Within each piece of work, we have introduced different elements of the Framework and with a cohort of young leaders we’ve been focusing on teamwork and leadership. In the long-term, these young people can have a greater say in the running of the youth services and hopefully find future employment within Deaf Action and elsewhere.

4. What do you believe needs to change in education/work/community outreach today?

Essential skills definitely need to become the thread between education, work, and across communities. There’s relevant evidence for all, which shows strong correlations between understanding and articulation of essential skills and improved life prospects.

Those of us who are making use of Skills Builder could form local hubs, working together to create seamless connections between local education, employers, and community organisations. (This thought has just come to me, so I’ll have to try to follow this up in my local area!)

5. What are the most noticeable developments that you’ve observed recently in your sector/organisation?

Digitalisation in aspects of our lives and especially in the education and training sector. People now have more choices made available to them when accessing learning. However, we’re seeing a plethora of offers that are quite substandard, and so we do need to find ways to ensure quality control. We’re doing this by partnering and licensing ourselves with accredited organisations such as Adair International Ltd, UK Coaching, and Sport Structures. Any bespoke work that we create is sent off for CPD accreditation.

6. What does your next chapter look like? What are your upcoming projects?

By chance, as I write my answer to this question, the BSL Act gained Royal Assent this afternoon and is now an act of UK Parliament. This will be the beginning of a new trail for society to blaze. I hope that the law will encourage greater momentum for change to make lifelong learning accessible for Deaf users whose first language is British Sign Language (BSL).

We run a series of leadership webinars every year in partnership with Action Deafness and others. Our first event will feature Rebecca Mansell, CEO of the British Deaf Association, whose campaign team have been the main driver behind the BSL Act. Our audience is looking forward to learning about her Journey to becoming a CEO and what she thinks the Act means for leaders of all organisations.

As a member of the Skills Builder Inclusive Organisations Cluster we are looking forward to using the Framework with deaf students, so that it can be appraised and modified. Eventually, the majority of BSL users will be able to access the website without requiring the presence of additional communication or learning support.

7. Are there organisations you’d like to work with that you haven’t done so yet?

Yes!  We would like to work with forward-thinking employers who recognise the positive impact that deaf people can make to their organisations. We want to join up with them and specialist Teachers of the Deaf in mainstream and Deaf schools. Through this, we’d create inclusive Skills Builder activities that lead to tangible work experience and ultimately employment. We also want to design a more focussed post-secondary education plan that enables deaf students to gain necessary qualifications and skills.

8. Who do you find most interesting to follow on social media?

I am addicted to the BBC app!

9. Are there sector events that you can’t afford to miss each year and why?

I try to ensure that I am attending as many Skills Builder events as possible because of the cross-section of stakeholders involved; educators, employers, and community organisations!

10. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

As a leader of others, make sure you understand the task you have been given. Build the right team, support the individuals in your team to enable them to do their best work and, if necessary, take responsibility if the task fails.

About Deaf and Hearing Trailblazers

Deaf & Hearing Trailblazers is a Community Interest Company (CIC) and the UK's exclusive leadership training provider for Deaf and hearing people.

Their courses provide the skills and knowledge to enable further progress in work or in personal and social lives. On Deaf & Hearing Trailblazer courses, Deaf and hearing people learn alongside each other and promote the positive aspect of working together to improve society. These courses promote the idea of 'Deaf Gain': when people see it in action, they realise how the richness of sign language and deaf culture can benefit mainstream society.

You can contact them at their email address: office@dhtrailblazers.org.uk.

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